“CHANGING MENTAL CHANNELS (So You Don’t End Up in Podunk When You Wanted Emerald City)”
by Glenn Younger
Creating a story from reader’s input—rough first draft.
Chapter 9:Karmic Clean Up
The banging on the door pulls Tandy out of a troubled sleep. With a moan, she rolls over and drags herself into a sitting position. Sunlight replaces the golden glow of last night’s candles, and she fights against its brightness. The apartment is still achingly empty. The echo is still very much alive and functioning as the banging on the door grows louder.
“Tandy!” Edwina’s voice is hoarse. “Open up!”
“I’m coming!” On the way to the door, she stumbles over a candle stub and it skids in front of her. She hops twice to catch her balance and rubs her lower back. A night of sleeping on a cold hard floor has its price. Why didn’t she get up and get onto her air mattress? Oh that’s right. As she reaches to turn the doorknob, the shooting pain in her shoulder brings it all back to her—the drunk monologue, the man who almost attacked her on the street, but gave her those stupid papers before—. She mentally shoves the thought of him disappearing to the back of her mind, and locks him in a dark closet.
“Good afternoon sunshine,” Edwina croaks.
“What happened to your voice?”
“Paying for yesterday. Bad karma is a bitch. So I come bearing gifts.” Edwina holds up two cups of coffee, and wears an encouraging smile. She looks like a 1920’s time warp from outer space with her blue hair gelled to her head in small undulating waves and dangly silver earrings pointing downwards towards a vintage low-waisted kelly green chiffon dress that just covers the tops of scruffy black combat boots.
“What time is it?” Tandy stretches against the kinks in her back, and rubs her shoulder.
“Just in time for late breakfast,” Tandy says over a yawn. “Come in.”
“I’ve got good news and bad news. Here’s your good news.” Edwina hands Tandy one of the cups.
“Thanks.” Tandy takes a sip of coffee. “What’s the bad news?”
“You by the looks of it.” Edwina surveys Tandy’s crumpled dress, matted hair still slightly damp from last night’s foray into the night, dark circles under her eyes made worse by smeared mascara, and blackened cheeks. “Girl, you look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet.”
Tandy grunts a small laugh, and closes the door.
“When you didn’t call—.” Edwina stops short. “What in blazing saddles happened here?”
When Tandy looks at the room for the first time with eyes open and in the full light of day, her jaw drops in utter dismay.
Candles left burning through the night have left their mark. Except the one candle now lying by the door, the circle is still intact, measured by twenty three clumps of melted wax stuck to the floor. The walls that Tandy had just painted four days ago to insure the return of her safety deposit are now covered with a film of black soot.
“What did you do?” Edwina asks.
“Nothing,” Tandy says. “Well, a lot actually, but nothing that did this.”
“You didn’t blow out the candles last night, did you?”
“No.” Tandy purses her lips in self reprobation. “Of course I didn’t.”
“Yeah,” Edwina sighs in commiseration. “Sometimes doing nothing is the worst.”
Edwina kneels down to look at one of the candles. It’s stuck solid to the hardwood floor. She places her coffee on the floor next to her, and pulls on the wax with her fingernails. It doesn’t budge.
Tandy kneels to help. With two sets of fingernails working together, it comes up with a small popping sound, and leaves a dark ring of stained wood in its place.
“Oh this is not good,” says Edwina.
“No it’s not.” Tandy plops to a sitting position and drops her head into her hands. “None of it.”
“Okay. We’ll deal with it.” Edwina moves to lift the next circle of wax. “There’s always a solution to everything. We just gotta’ find it. C’mon. Let’s get these up.”
“You’re right.” Resolve lifts Tandy’s head. “If I can extend my lease, then I won’t lose my security deposit.” She reaches for her phone to call the leasing company. The phone is dead. She opens the box that served as last night’s table, pulls out a phone charger, and plugs it in.
“About that.” Edwina grunts and another disc of wax pops free. She moves to the next one.
“What about it?” Tandy gets a nail file from her purse and gets to work on the disc of wax closest to her.
“You didn’t answer the phone this morning.”
“Right. No juice.”
“So I called the leasing company pretending to be in search of apartment.”
“To see if you called.”
“What’d they say?”
“They said it wasn’t available.”
“No, that’s the really bad news.” Edwina puts a disc of wax with the others she’s collected. “They said it’s leased and the new tenant is moving in Monday.”
“But—.” Tandy accidentally gouges the nail file into the wood. She uses her thumb to press the loose piece back into the hole. “That’s the day after tomorrow!”
“Dangit, I was counting on that deposit money.” She adds under her breath, “There goes my ace in the hole. Now what?”
The two women work in silence lifting the circles of wax until Edwina comes across the crumpled pieces of manuscript from the night before.
“Oh, that,” Tandy says. “Some advertisement for something.” She doesn’t want to think about it. Tries to keep the bogeyman in the closet where he belongs.
Edwina sits cross legged and tucks her skirt between her legs. “Hmmm.”
“It’s nothing. Really.” Tandy works on the next circle of wax.
“I don’t know,” Edwina says after about five minutes of concentrated reading. “This is good stuff. Seriously. Where’d you get it?”
“You’re not going to believe it. I’m not sure I do.”
“Spill it girl. I love a good story!”
When Tandy finishes recounting last night’s events as she best remembers, she says, “So what do you think? Weird, right?”
“Did you look for him afterwards?”
“Noooo! I hightailed it out of there.”
“Hmmm. That’s totally weird. Like other dimension weird.”
“I know, right? So, what do you think it means?”
“I don’t have a clue. To loosely quote the Bard, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.” Edwina taps the pages she’s just finished reading. “Maybe it’s time to expand our philosophy.”
“I don’t know.” Tandy bobbles her head back and forth. “How?”
“Okay, let’s just pretend there IS a Universal Bank of Being.”
“But there isn’t.”
“But let’s just pretend there is. What would you get with your bankcard? Right now. Right this second.”
“Right this second?” Tandy runs her fingers through her hair, and gets them caught in a knot of frizz. “It’s more a question of what I need. I need coffee. A shower. A blow drier. And a plan.”
“Well we’ve got coffee. Done.” Edwina picks up a cup and hands it to Tandy. “Still warm actually. And I brought muffins.” She pulls a paper bag out of her flowered purse, opens it, and hands a muffin to Tandy. “Blueberry. Your favorite.”
“How do you know that?”
“Oh,” Edwina says lightly, “I asked the Spirit Guides of Muffins.”
“Well, be sure to thank them for me.”
The ceiling light, which hasn’t been used in years, is now glaring down in harsh judgment of the hard work the two women are putting into wiping the walls clean of soot using something called magic sponges from the local hardware store. The guy who sold them had said, “They’ll work like a charm.” There are still streaks everywhere.
Edwina has changed her green chiffon dress for a pair of Tandy’s jeans and tee shirt. If it weren’t for the difference in their hair color, they’d look like twins from behind. They both work with equal fervor, trying to get the work done before the landlord’s representative comes for his final check and decision about Tandy’s security deposit. The slant of the late afternoon sun tells them they’re running out of time.
“You could always guilt trip Karl into giving you wads of money, you know.” Edwina has been thinking about it all day. “He owes you a lot more than just an explanation.” She doesn’t mention the drunk recording that Tandy had played for her.
“Edwina! Don’t even go there. It wouldn’t be right.”
“Who do we know, then, that can make a donation to AUM? That’d bring you in some cash. You said you get ten percent, right? How about your Mom?”
“Not an option.”
“Well, there’s gotta’ be a viable option somewhere.” Edwina grimaces at the thought, but says it anyway. “You could ask Spir-bit for an advance.”
“An advance on what? She’s ready to fire me as it is.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.” Tandy ignores the pain in her shoulder, and scrubs the wall harder.
“Seriously, where are you gonna’ sleep? I’d offer my place, but you saw how small it is. I could float you for a few nights in a cheap hotel. It’s not good, but it’ll buy you some time.”
“Thanks Edwina, but I don’t see that as an option either.”
“Sweetie, what ARE your options?” Edwina drops the used magic sponge on top of last night’s pizza box, and opens a new package.
“If I have to, maybe I can ask my friend, Marc, if he’ll let me crash at his for a few.”
“Is he flush enough to make a donation?”
“Not an option.” Tandy steps back to survey their work. Streaks still abound. With a scowl, she wipes the sweat off her forehead, tightens her ponytail with a sharp jerk, and goes back to scrubbing with renewed determination.
“Something’s gotta’ give, Tandy,” Edwina plugs on. “Use your bankcard.”
“From the Universal Bank of Being.”
Tandy grunts and keeps scrubbing. Edwina tries to read her thoughts, but they’re surprisingly silent, like there’s a brick wall hiding them from the world. “Who is Marc, anyway?”
The only sound from Tandy is the scratch, scratch, scratch of a magic sponge against the wall.
“Okay,” Edwina says with a small sigh. “Try to make it simple. If I were to read the Cliff Notes on it, how would the story go?”
“I told you. It’s complicated,” Tandy barks. “I can’t make it any simpler than that.”
“That’s not an answer.” Edwina’s tone is gentle, but frustration bleeds through. “What are you avoiding?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“But I do! I’m your friend and—,”
“Okay!” Tandy interrupts. “You asked for it. Cliff note version.” Tandy’s words are mechanical, and her scrubbing becomes more dogged as she recites each point of the story. “Charismatic father with narcissistic mean streak. Co-dependant mother tries to stand up against him. Doesn’t work. Children keep heads down to not get caught in cross fire. She finds spirituality. Stands up again. Gets knocked down. Uses photography as emotional outlet. Thanks to mother’s mentor, starts to get famous. Monster father gets jealous and tries to stop her. Children get caught in cross fire when his solution is burn her art and walk away. Doesn’t know they’re inside sleeping. Fire spreads through house. Mentor comes. Children get pulled out. Goes in for mother. Mother in a coma. Meanwhile, father cleans out bank accounts and escapes with his lover to South America. Mother comes out of coma. Spends a full year in recovery and reconstructive surgery to fix all the damage. Insurance company doesn’t pay because fire is called arson. Mentor leaves. Mother swears off photography. Too many painful memories. Children grow up. Go their separate ways. Daughter quits acting to follow photography. She’s failing miserably, is out on her butt, her job on the line, betrayed by her—,” Tandy chokes down a hiccup. “No money in the bank, with some metaphorical bankcard that isn’t good anywhere except in la-la land, and who’s now scrubbing her wall because of the damage done by her new friend’s aromatherapy candles, and no one to blame but herself. End of Cliff Notes. Like I said, it is complicated. Happy?”
Words fail her—it takes a full beat of time to process—but the dumbfounded expression on Edwina’s face says it all. She drops her sponge and runs to her friend, arms outstretched. “Oh, pumpkin, it’s not your fault!”
Tandy is still scrubbing, like a machine running at high speed. She doesn’t stop—not even for comfort from her friend—but she doesn’t shrug Edwina off, either.
The doorbell rings. Edwina gently disengages from her one way hug, and runs tip toed to open the door. A messenger is holding a gorgeous bouquet of orange, coral, and red roses; pink fairy lilies; and deep purple chrysanthemums.
“Tandy Johnson? Sign here please.”
Edwina scribbles an illegible name onto his portable computer.
“Is there a card?” Tandy’s entire body quivers in hope.
Tandy’s hands are shaking so hard, she can’t open the envelope. “Here. You read it. Is it from Karl?”
“Yes.” A small flicker of disdain crinkles the corners of Edwina’s eyes when she scans the card.
“Read it to me.”
“Life can be complicated,” Edwina reads. She holds back a derisive snort. “Flowers can somehow make things simple. I know you have a lot to say. I do, too. I hope you’ll let us work this out when I get back in town the end of next week. I love you with all my heart. Karl.”
Tandy bursts into tears of relief.
Edwina scowls at what she sees as the worst kind of emotional manipulation possible. He’s left her friend dangling, and she’s not at all happy about it.
COMMENTS are open for business. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and ideas. Or just cheer me on in this NaNoWriMo challenge of getting a rough draft of a new novel finished by November 30.
**What are your thoughts? Do you want Karl and Tandy to work it out? Is there too much backstory?
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